Christianity invents a “Problem” so it can offer its “Solution”

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 3, 2010 in Video

The above video highlights how infomercials invent silly “problems” that people supposedly have – a bed too high for a small dog to jump onto, or accidentally cracking an egg into a stove’s burner – so that they can sell TV viewers their “solutions.”

Very few people would think such things are problems in their life until an infomercial tells them these are problems, so that advertisers can sell “solutions” – a stepping stool for small dogs or a guided egg-cracker – for only 3 easy payments of $19.99!

In such cases, both the “problems” and the “solutions” are rather silly, but the sale pitch works on enough people to justify the cost of the ads.

Christianity does much the same thing.

Consider the billions of people living out their lives: pursuing passions, getting married, raising children, enjoying the planet, struggling toward their goals. If somebody didn’t tell them their life was meaningless and purposeless without God, would that ever occur to them? Probably not. We all find a great deal of meaning and purpose in life without God.

So Christianity must first convince people they have a problem. That the meaning and purpose they currently find in life doesn’t really count unless it has been given to them by a cosmic dictator. That is a rather silly “problem”, but Christians make a strong and ever-present pitch in favor of it.

Then they propose a “solution”… for only 500 monthly payments of 10% of your income! (Plus lots of prayer and Bible reading and other sacrifices.) And what is the solution? Worship and serve an invisible cosmic dictator, who will somehow “give” you meaning and purpose that really counts.

When Christians tell me that without God I must not have any meaning or purpose in life, I tell them: “Sorry, I don’t have that problem.”

And when they go on to tell me what their solution is, I say: “I don’t see much value in your solution, either.”

There is plenty of purpose in life without God.

Also see linguist and Christian missionary Daniel Everett’s story: “I was trying to convince a happy, satisfied people that they were lost and needed Jesus as their personal savior.”

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherry Peyton May 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I find your remarks hard to understand. I don’t think that most of Christendom “makes up” the problem of meaninglessness in life. That seems mostly inherent in the human psyche. It is not the church advancing this, it is the lives of humans frought with alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, greed, consumerism, and all this that speaks more eloquently to the feelings of a meaningless existence.

People think that the accumulation of things, fame, fortune, and so forth will bring them happiness. When they find themselves still as miserable as they were when poor, they often look to faith. Some find answers there, and undeniably some do not.

But I contend it is the human desire for more meaning, something beyond themselves, some sense to the universe that drives this rather than the churches themselves.

I would agree, that any church that demands your money is one to leave. But this is not the common experience I would contend. No seriously Christian church would EVER demand money in return for sitting in the pew. Such is simply the opposite of evangelizing.

I have no idea where you get the idea that God is some “cosmic Dictator” as you put it. It seems you may have been introducted only to a sad and erroneous brand of Christianity–fundamentalism–which is neither biblical nor rational.

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Jacopo May 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Excellent post Luke; I’ve heard similar sentiments before, but this particular way of putting it bring the real issues into focus very well.

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Zak May 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I think even more fitting is the idea of sin. “Did you realize that you are born into sin? No? Well, you are, and we have just the thing to help!”

Reminds me of Dan Barker’s quip that it is sort of like a doctor who runs around cutting people, so he can sell you a band aid.

Sherry Peyton, it is standard Christian doctrine that you can be sent to hell for thinking the wrong things (ie, doubting the existence of the holy spirit). That is thought crime, plain and simple. If that doesn’t equal dictatorship… I don’t know what does. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VG5lczmV44Y

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Ben May 3, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I agree with Sherry that it’s doesn’t necessarily equate to these sort of products: the “problem” already exists. However I do agree that Christianity is selling a solution.

I would instead equate the sale of Christianity with the advertising that targets women to sell them cosmetics and skin care products. The methodology behind those ads is not to invent a problem, but to make women feel bad about problems that already exists, to drag down their self-esteem about their flaws (real or just perceived), so they can sell a product to build it back up again.

Christianity (and most religions) do this by discounting or outright ignoring the purpose and meaning that exists without it. Whatever purpose you make for yourself couldn’t possibly be as meaningful as the one our product provides. You must be miserable, you sad, pathetic individual. But look! God is here to save the day. Don’t you feel much better now?

Well, you will — if you only focus on the 0.5% of active ingredients that make is seem like it’s working and ignore the 89.5% of water and 10% of carcinogens that our product contains.

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Tito May 3, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I’ve often thought that sin is like a chiropractic subluxation, it doesn’t really exist objectively or measurably, but it is the imagined problem that needs to be cured through Jesus’ atoning death or by thrice weekly adjustments, respectively.

This was most apparent to me after leaving Christianity and realizing how much of the problems that Christianity addressed don’t exist at all once you step away, or were massively exaggerated straw-men.

Any basic “plan of salvation” presentation starts with helping the target be aware of their separation from god, e.g. sin, by taking their guilt over any perceived wrong-doing and jumping right to “cosmic treason” (as my old pastor used to call sin), which requires god’s forgiveness.

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Zeb May 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Don’t most religions and even non-theistic world views seek to find or create meaning in a life that in itself often seems meaningless? If you replace “Christianity” with “religion” in the original post you might have a point, because the second most prominent commonality among religions after belief in the supernatural is recognition of some sort of fundamental dis-ease that plagues humanity. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam at least address this widespread belief. There are also many non-theistic world views that find and seek to address a fundamental problem of some kind either in human life or in human beings – marxism, existentialism, hedonism, even the New Sincerity. Maybe the Christian way of framing and addressing the problem is wrong, and maybe everyone is wrong about there being a problem at all, but Christianity is not tricking people into feeling something that no one would feel otherwise.

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Justfinethanks May 3, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I have no idea where you get the idea that God is some “cosmic Dictator” as you put it.

Let us pretend, just for a moment, that there exists a country where the law is composed entirely of the King’s say-so. There are no democratic votes, no congress or parliment, just whatever the King says goes.

Among the laws that this King has decreed include “Thou shalt have no other Kings before me,” and “Thou shalt not use the King’s name in vain.” Furthermore, the King decrees that all crimes, high and low, from gambling to murder, are deserving of the highest punishment. Among these crimes are simply feeling angry and looking at a member of the opposite sex with lust.

How exactly would you describe this country (where a leader demands the harshest justice for how you worship, speak, think, and feel) and this King if not a dictatorship and a dictator? Furthermore, would you rather live there or in a liberal representative democracy where you are guaranteed the freedom to worship, speak, think, and feel however you want?

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Keith May 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm

The analogy I often like to use is of the car tire salesman who, in the dead of night, sprinkles sharp nails on the roads surrounding his shop. The next morning, he waits for the business to roll in.

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Chris K May 3, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I think G.K Chesterton once said that the only empirically provable Christian doctrine was that of original sin. Now, of course there are problems with this statement, but the point is that the world is racked with moral failure. If one is a moral realist, I think that one would agree with this. I could be wrong.

I think that it is true that each of the major religions diagnoses an “ill” of humanity and proposes a “cure.” I don’t know on which of the religions, the ill is meaninglessness or purposelessness. I do know that on Christianity, these may be symptoms – but they aren’t necessary symptoms. On the Christian view, the diagnosed ill is sin. Now, sin only makes sense as a category “before God,” so we can think of the phrase, “moral failure,” as a rough, non-theistic version of this.

Kant thought that it was evident that there is universal moral failure, as have many other philosophers.

It’s also interesting that the history of philosophy is full of diagnosed ills and proposed cures: Socrates, Plato, the Stoics, Plotinus, of course the medievals, existentialism, etc. These diagnoses include ones both of moral failure and of meaninglessness and purposelessness.

So, it seems a bit strange to isolate Christianity out of the pack of religions and philosophies who “invent a problem so it can offer its solution,” especially since Christianity’s diagnosis (and solution) appears to here have been misidentified. Sure people can find (perceived) meaning and purpose without God. Where can people find continually extended grace for moral failure?

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al friedlander May 3, 2010 at 6:05 pm

“That seems mostly inherent in the HUMAN PSYCHE. It is not the church advancing this, it is the lives of humans frought with alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, greed, consumerism, and all this that speaks more eloquently to the feelings of a meaningless existence.”

But the thing that is disturbing is that God (if He exists) -made us- like this. In addition to the notion that a human being is strictly the result of his genetic-code interacting with his/her environment, we have the issue of the world as well, which revolves around a competition for its limited resources (survival of the fittest, essentially). The world, as it was designed, promotes homosexuality (bringing this up here because it is considered a sin), poverty, murder, disease, suffering, and ironically enough, doubt concerning a ‘one true’ religion due to a lack of evidence (note the multiple sects/religions of the world and their disagreements).

At the same time, this Being demands us to worship Him. Some may make it out as a ‘choice’, but given the nature of the role of genetics/where you are born/how you are raised/etc., it’s far from a fair one, if not even completely illusory. To make things even worse, the punishment for disobeying our naturally instilled, human tendencies make it so that we are born condemned to suffer a punishment so great and so horrifying, that it surpasses any form of torture currently imaginable.

Note that I am not trying to shove my opinions down your throat. I’m just expressing the thoughts that swirled in my mind when you said “I have no idea where you get the idea that God is some ‘cosmic Dictator’”.

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ayer May 3, 2010 at 7:38 pm

As the following recent article from the Boston Globe points out, the notion that there is a “problem” with human existence that needs to be solved is ubiquitous throughout the world, including among those preached to by Christian missionaries:

“What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world. In the Hopi language, the word “Koyaanisqatsi” tells us that life is out of balance. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” tells us that there is something rotten not only in the state of Denmark but also in the state of human existence. Hindus say we are living in the “kali yuga,” the most degenerate age in cosmic history. Buddhists say that human existence is pockmarked by suffering. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic stories tell us that this life is not Eden; Zion, heaven, and paradise lie out ahead.

So religious folk agree that something has gone awry. They part company, however, when it comes to stating just what has gone wrong, and they diverge even more sharply when they move from diagnosing the human problem to prescribing how to solve it. Moreover, each offers its own distinctive diagnosis of the human problem and its own prescription for a cure. Each offers its own techniques for reaching its religious goal, and its own exemplars for emulation.”
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/04/25/separate_truths/?page=full

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Mark May 3, 2010 at 8:28 pm

It’s not that Christianity incorrectly identifies widespread moral failure in the world. Everyone agrees that there is such failure. It’s that Christianity makes people feel guilty for things that would never otherwise occur to them to feel guilty about, and then makes them feel guilty for not having felt guilty enough about these things before. The solution offered is repentance, which means striving all the more assiduously to internalize Christian doctrines of guilt.

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mikemarsh May 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm

I am currently watching the 2006 documentary, “Jesus Camp”, and it is a classic example of what you’re referring to… creating a problem so you can issue your solution. They spend the entire time at this camp trying to convince the kids that everything in the world is evil and that each one of these KIDS is a wretched sinner.

This is what I grew up with. Every showman tactic they use on the kids in this film is exactly what my youth pastor and leaders employed when I was their age at Christian camp. That was their time to shine… their time to get you “on fire for the Lord”. They pulled out every trick in the book to get you to break down and cry. Their main tactic was to create a problem that you weren’t aware of… and then make you feel absolutely horrible for it. Oh man… when you hit the high school camps, the list of “sins” they could pull from was unending… they could really reel them in then. And I was one of them… despite being one of the cleanest and most honest teens you’d ever met. They would shine the light on some moral gray area, and just pound you for it until you completely broke down. Anything “of the flesh” was a sure fire tactic. They LOVED to make you feel horrible for lusting and masturbation.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Yeah, Jesus Camp is a good example.

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MarkD May 3, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Daniel Everett is an extremely interesting linguist. I didn’t know about his conversion/deconversion but have read his theories on universality with great interest in recent years.

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Beelzebub May 4, 2010 at 2:14 am

Hegel’s theory of “Geist” (spirit) of the time, Zeitgest, resonates pretty strongly with me as valid. Our western historical dialectic has been informed by Christianity, saturated by it. Some Christians savagely criticize atheists as being “moral parasites” feeding off the host Christian moral framework. In a sense they are absolutely correct, since we have all been infected with the conviction that there is something inherently wrong with us; even the healthiest among us have been infected by it, though some are more resistant than others. It’s no wonder that we’re all susceptible to the lure of that perverse religion, the one that offers antidote. How remarkable the individual to recover health once under its spell. It helps, of course, to be immersed in a culture utterly alien to the its influence, and salved, it is no surprise that it slowly resolves.

The disease metaphor for Christianity is too apt to be coincidence. There has to be a certain analogy. We all know of those early infections that resolve, only to recrudesce later in life. It’s often fatal.

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Chris K May 4, 2010 at 4:39 am

Jesus Camp is a good example of what, exactly? Fundamentalism gone awry? Perhaps it is a good example of how some types of Christians “invent a problem so that it can offer a solution.” But this says little about Christianity. It’s not as if Jesus doesn’t address this issue. It’s not as if Paul doesn’t address this issue. The Pharisaic, scrupulous conscience that is found in some fundamentalist Christians is exactly what Jesus preached against.

Paul Ricoeur’s The Symbolism of Evil gives a nice description and distinction of the various issues that are at work in the concepts of sin and guilt, as well as a helpful comparison of these views in the ancient near east an in Greek thought.

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ayer May 4, 2010 at 4:57 am

It’s not that Christianity incorrectly identifies widespread moral failure in the world. Everyone agrees that there is such failure.

“Widespread moral failure” would be quite sufficient to produce “widespread moral guilt” without Christianity “making” people do anything

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Edson May 4, 2010 at 7:23 am

“It’s that Christianity makes people feel guilty for things that would never otherwise occur to them to feel guilty about, and then makes them feel guilty for not having felt guilty enough about these things before.”

Elegantly stated. That’s why it takes massive humility for the elites of the society to appreciate Christianity in its orthodoxy.

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Mark May 4, 2010 at 7:35 am

“Widespread moral failure” would be quite sufficient to produce “widespread moral guilt” without Christianity “making” people do anything

Of course. Everyone has something to feel guilty about. That’s not the point (or at least not my point).

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Sherry Peyton May 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

How exactly would you describe this country (where a leader demands the harshest justice for how you worship, speak, think, and feel) and this King if not a dictatorship and a dictator? Furthermore, would you rather live there or in a liberal representative democracy where you are guaranteed the freedom to worship, speak, think, and feel however you want?
Sorry but you are only mouthing an literalist reading of the bible. This is not the general interpretation of either mainstream Christianity nor of biblical scholars. God is not anything like this…you but echo general fundamentalist claptrap.

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Sherry Peyton May 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

How exactly would you describe this country (where a leader demands the harshest justice for how you worship, speak, think, and feel) and this King if not a dictatorship and a dictator? Furthermore, would you rather live there or in a liberal representative democracy where you are guaranteed the freedom to worship, speak, think, and feel however you want?

Sorry but you are only mouthing an literalist reading of the bible. This is not the general interpretation of either mainstream Christianity nor of biblical scholars. God is not anything like this…you but echo general fundamentalist claptrap.

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Sherry Peyton May 4, 2010 at 1:00 pm

“But the thing that is disturbing is that God (if He exists) -made us- like this. In addition to the notion that a human being is strictly the result of his genetic-code interacting with his/her environment, we have the issue of the world as well, which revolves around a competition for its limited resources (survival of the fittest, essentially). The world, as it was designed, promotes homosexuality (bringing this up here because it is considered a sin), poverty, murder, disease, suffering, and ironically enough, doubt concerning a ‘one true’ religion due to a lack of evidence (note the multiple sects/religions of the world and their disagreements).

blockquote>At the same time, this Being demands us to worship Him. Some may make it out as a ‘choice’, but given the nature of the role of genetics/where you are born/how you are raised/etc., it’s far from a fair one, if not even completely illusory. To make things even worse, the punishment for disobeying our naturally instilled, human tendencies make it so that we are born condemned to suffer a punishment so great and so horrifying, that it surpasses any form of torture currently imaginable.

You too refer to a God of the fundamentalist.God did not creat us to seek happiness through consumerism, drugs, and alcohol. We are the product of evolutionary genetics.

God demands no worship, again you are reading literally. God graciously awaits our seeking of him to establish a loving relationship with. HOw many times must it be said? You cannot read the bible literally. It is the record of an anchient people’s understand of how God worked in their lives. To treat it as some actual word of God, belittles God. You bespeak a faith still stuck in infancy.

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Sherry Peyton May 4, 2010 at 1:05 pm

sorry everyone but this comment system is really horrid.

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Zeb May 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Sherry is right, and the majority of Christians today and throughout history have been nonliteralists – the Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans along with other smaller denominations. This blog tends to be focused on Christian fundamentalists even when it points out particularly intelligent philosophers and apologists like Craig and Plantinga. I don’t know if that is because in America the evangelicals are the most visible (and maybe most populous) group, or if they happen to dominate the highest levels of philosophy of religion.

And Sherry, the comment system is not so bad once you get used to it, but it is tricky at first.

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Justfinethanks May 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I don’t know if that is because in America the evangelicals are the most visible (and maybe most populous) group, or if they happen to dominate the highest levels of philosophy of religion.

I suppose the focus on literalists and fundamentalists are threefold.

1) This is an American based blog with mostly American commenters, and as you point out, protestant fundamentalism is both the most visible and the most dominant view. Bear in mind in America almost half of the population holds to Young Earth Creationism.
2) Most American Christian apostates come from fundamentalist backgrounds, and therefore are simply arguing against the version of Christianity they are most familiar with.
3) To most people primarily familiar with evangelical Christianity as the dominant view, more liberal theologies seem whishy-washy or even incoherent. In other words, they seem to have even more problems than fundamentalist views, so to many atheists they don’t quite seem even worth arguing against.

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Lee A.P. May 4, 2010 at 5:41 pm

The majority of Christendom in the United States believes the Bible is the literal word of God.

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Chris K May 4, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Here’s a thought, for an example. I tend to identify myself as an evangelical Christian. I believe the Bible is the literal and inspired Word of God. I don’t, however, read literalistically. That is to say, you can’t just grab a Bible and read it straight out how it seems to make sense to you. You always have to be sensitive to the grammatical, social, literary, historic, and theological underpinnings of the text. So, when you look closely a Genesis 1, for example, you find that there are all kinds of things going on in the literary and social background of the text, and you realize that it isn’t meant to be a historical account of material creation but a theological argument.

One can and should affirm the literal truth of the Bible – but the literal truth is always in accordance with the meaning of the text in its social, historical, and literary context, not with, “The Bible says it so I believe it.”

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Zeb May 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I’m a bit surprised though, considering Luke focus on top flight philosophers of religion rather than popular preachers, that the bias still holds. I’m personally not familiar with the current state of academic philosophy of religion, so tell me, is it the case that Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans are not much in the game anymore? I can imagine they might gravitate more to theology than philosophy. Just wondering.

It is very, very strange to refer to Catholicism and Orthodoxy as “liberal theologies.” Even among Protestants the mainline denominations, especially Anglicans, are really the conservative ones, not the Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

But fundamentalism does share something of a spirit with analytic philosophy, and I wonder if that is part of why this so many atheists focus on it. It is simpler, more definite, and easier to prove false.

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al friedlander May 5, 2010 at 12:55 am

“You too refer to a God of the fundamentalist”

“God demands no worship, again you are reading literally. God graciously awaits our seeking of him to establish a loving relationship with. HOw many times must it be said? You cannot read the bible literally. ”

I think you may have misinterpreted the gist of my original message. My claims have absolutely -nothing- to do with ‘fundamentalism’, or even a ‘literal reading’ of the Bible. Those terms are pretty much irrelevant here. I mean, I’m a bit confused. Do more liberal theologies not believe in everlasting damnation for nonbelievers?

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Justfinethanks May 5, 2010 at 4:56 am

I’m personally not familiar with the current state of academic philosophy of religion, so tell me, is it the case that Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans are not much in the game anymore?

I don’t know about Orthodox, but Alexander Pruss is certainly one of the more visible and respected Christian philosophers, and he’s Catholic. I’m sure there are others I’m not aware of.

It is very, very strange to refer to Catholicism and Orthodoxy as “liberal theologies.”

I suppose I didn’t mean liberal in a John Shelby Spong kind of way. Catholicism has that “totally fine with evolution thing,” which is nice, but odd. And Eastern Orthodox has that “totally fine with not just nonliteralism, but also errancy” thing, which is even odder. I simply meant they are more liberal than perhaps most Americans are familiar with.

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ayer May 5, 2010 at 5:09 am

Do more liberal theologies not believe in everlasting damnation for nonbelievers?

No, they don’t, and some evangelical theologies believe in “annihilationism”, not everlasting torment.

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Zeb May 5, 2010 at 7:32 am

Justfinethanks, I was critiquing the use of the word “liberal” as opposed to the fundamentalists. Catholic and Orthodox adhere to theologies that go back 1700 years old at least, while Pentacostalism and Evangelicalism are fairly recent deviations from tradition. They are the liberal ones. Even in Protestantism, the mainline churches are the traditional ones, conservative in the sense of not deviating from tradition. Certainly Catholic and Orthodox theologies are more nuanced if that’s what you mean.

Do more liberal theologies not believe in everlasting damnation for nonbelievers?

Even strict Catholic theology does not teach definite damnation for nonbelievers. The Church says they don’t know for sure that anyone at all has or will end up in hell, and that a person is saved if they follow the grace of the Holy Spirit insofar as it is given to them. Hell is only for those who die in a state of mortal sin, having sinned gravely against God, other people, or themselves and refusing to repent. And for a sin to be mortal, it must be with full intent and with full knowledge. (Paraphrased from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) Non-belief or false belief would only be mortal sin if the person knowingly and intentionally rejected true belief. It’s an open question whether a person who knows the teachings of Catholicism but rejects them because in an earnest, humble, and open pursuit of truth he judged them to be false could be said to have knowingly and intentionally rejected true belief.

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Lorkas May 5, 2010 at 7:39 am

No, they don’t, and some evangelical theologies believe in “annihilationism”, not everlasting torment.  

Not to mention the universalist position, which, in my experience, is a bit more common than the annihilationist position (at least outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses).

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al friedlander May 5, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Thanks for your responses

“No, they don’t, and some evangelical theologies believe in “annihilationism”, not everlasting torment. ”

“Not to mention the universalist position, which, in my experience, is a bit more common than the annihilationist position”

My follow-up question would be regarding the prevalence of these positions within the overall Christian-population. If eternal-hell was still indeed a dominant concept within -most- of Christianity, I would find the positions of a few ‘branches’ to be of little comfort. Personally, I’ve yet to run into a single Christian that doesn’t support the doctrine of hell, though admittedly, I do live in the United States.

“The Church says they don’t know for sure that anyone at all has or will end up in hell”

Forgive me for being frank, just giving my honest opinion on the matter. But this notion really does sound like a tactic designed specifically to avoid ‘responsibility’. In other words: ‘Hell really isn’t all that evil because we’re not even sure people will go there. But…given the case that this isn’t true, apologies, we did not know because it wasn’t very clear’

“Hell is only for those who die in a state of mortal sin, having sinned gravely against God, other people, or themselves and refusing to repent. And for a sin to be mortal, it must be with full intent and with full knowledge. (Paraphrased from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) Non-belief or false belief would only be mortal sin if the person knowingly and intentionally rejected true belief. ”

If I am reading this correctly (feel free to correct me if I’m not), this still sounds like it applies to -quite a lot of people-. It’s rather easy for me to visualize a person who ‘rejects true belief’, or in other words, denies ‘the word’ after hearing about it. Many commenters on this blog would fall into this category (including Luke himself), since we were all Christians at some point or another during an earlier period of our lives.

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Michael May 6, 2010 at 8:51 am

I have to agree that many people don’t suffer from the meaninglessness in the way some Christians claim. But sin is a different thing, and that is what Christianity offers a solution for. I don’t know of anybody who thinks they have never done something bad, or messed up along the way. The question then is whether that is in fact a problem, and to most it seems so. That is why we feel guilty, and try to improve upon mistakes and make the world a better place. Christianity offers a solution to this problem if it is true.

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Zeb May 6, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Al, the Catholic Church teaches that hell most certainly does exist, and that at the least, Satan the any other “fallen angels” were banished there. From the Catechism: “This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign… It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. ‘There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death’” As far as I know it is open to interpretation what constitutes rejection of true belief with full knowledge and intent. Is a person who hears about Christianity but has a distorted understanding or interpretation of it really rejecting true belief? That judgment is left to God, and the person in question is the only human who can evaluate his own openness to truth and reasons for believing what he does. My view of these doctrines (I am a Catholic) is that for a person to go to hell he must know God as the fallen angels did, and reject God just as radically and irrevocably. If a person has no encounter with God in the normal course of life, I expect he will during death. Since Luke says he did experience the presence of God very strongly, but now says he a priori rejects the truth of those experiences and any future ones, I am concerned that his atheistic stance is more dangerous than that of an atheist who knows only a caricature of Christianity and has never sensibly experienced God’s presence. But who knows what happens in death as mental faculties fade – epiphany and conversion may still be possible when rationality is not.

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al friedlander May 6, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Zeb, thanks for your honest reply; I will try to respond in kind. As a general preface to the opinions I am about to put forth, I’d like to note that I have nothing personal against most Christians (my least favorite group being the sign-waving folk). I am actually friends with many religious people; I’m also pretty comfortable in their groups, mostly due to fact that I used to be Protestant.

“From the Catechism: “This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign… It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable.”

The issue that has always plagued me about this is the notion of ‘free choice’ concerning these spirits. After my ‘spiritual search’, it seemed increasingly likely to me that Satan was some sort of scapegoat. Considering that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and beyond space/time, He was very well aware -before- he even created Lucifer that he would rebel against Him. In that respect, Satan has always been to me a kind of ticking-time bomb that God set to blow at just the time He wanted. The implication of this are, of course, rather disturbing.

“Since Luke says he did experience the presence of God very strongly, but now says he a priori rejects the truth of those experiences and any future ones, I am concerned that his atheistic stance is more dangerous”

I have a (real) scenario which makes this issue ever-more complicating. I knew a certain friend who loved God all his life; especially because he -felt- the Holy Spirit. When he went to college, he began to have certain logical doubts. He begged God to inform him of what he should do; he asked God questions, and begged Him to show him mercy. In the end, he started to develop a severe anxiety disorder, and went through a dark period in his life that made him question the meaning of living. It was after all this trauma that eventually, he was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. It was an interesting thing; after he started taking his medication, “God” disappeared. He could no longer feel Him, especially like how he used to. As a lesson from all this, my friend learned never to trust basic-human-emotions without logical-proof ever again, because it is more than likely, that your instincts could be lying to you.

Another example that comes to mind, and is more simple to explain, are the poor individuals that were molested as children. I read an article about a man who renounced his Catholic faith after being specifically abused by a priest. He would cry to God for help while being raped. He, understandably, deconverted as an adult. I could barely blame him; I’ve thankfully never had to suffer such trauma firsthand, but from what I’ve read/studied, it sounds life-destroying, and unimaginably terrible.

To finish, just a quick opinion of hell. Hell has always been probably the most disturbing aspect of Christianity. As a young Protestant, I absolutely refused such a cruel doctrine and secretly (within my own mind) believed that God was going to ultimately send every soul to heaven. Instead of punishing wicked individuals, he would educate them, and make them ashamed of their old ways. After their eyes had been opened by grace, they would instantly repent and see how wrong they had been.

As I grew older/more-mature, my emotional-invention was becoming increasingly insufficient/unconvincing. I started to realize that God was not the teddy-bear/Santa Claus that I had originally envisioned. God can get angry. God can be prideful. God can be jealous. And worst of all, God could be cruel.

I realize that nothing I’ve presented thus far can prove that Christianity is false. All it does, is present a slice of my emotional-argument for why we should -hope- that it is false. In addition, I think it shows a side of God that most people are either not entirely aware of, or ignore. Today, I am convinced that a ‘kind’ God does not exist. God Himself, however, can still very much exist, and it makes me shudder to ponder over the repercussions of this. To this day, I can find no satisfying explanation for all the cruelty/suffering/injustice that would occur not only in this world, but in the afterlife as well.

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Zeb May 7, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Al, I’ll just offer a few more thoughts, because my purpose is not to convince anyone that Christianity is true, only that it is defensible and that rationality is not the only or the all encompassing way of finding truth.

I think most of your criticisms are totally valid. I don’t they think the demand rejection of Christianity though; it seems to me they allow for refinement of faith. Because I have prior reason to believe in Christianity I choose the latter approach to valid objections. Some critics call that “moving the goal posts.” But this is not a sport to me, and I see no reason religion should not advance over time just like any other field of knowledge.

It sounds like your problem with the concept of fallen angels has to do with a seeming contradiction between free will and foreknowledge. The way I understand free will, it simply means that choices can be made completely independently of prior states or external conditions. I don’t see how foreknowledge of an outside mind reduces the freedom of an act despite the intuitive discomfort we have.

I happen to also have a good friend who was very devout and had many intense experiences of God, and who was eventually diagnosed with bi-polar after a psychotic mania. His meds pretty much ended the mystical phase of his life. However he did not choose to dismiss those experiences as “just chemical imbalances.” My own experience is similar, though my mystical experience and emotional volatility seem to have simply mellowed with age. It’s not surprising that mystical experiences have a biochemical aspect, and that they can be quelled with drugs. The same can be said for rational thought, frankly. My question would, “Was there spiritual content in those biochemical states?” Not, “Were those experiences independent of and thus invincible to biochemical states?” After all, most all kinds of religious techniques have been developed throughout history that use the body to trigger the brain to incite mystical experiences. What is religiously important, if anything, is the insight or development that comes out of those experiences.

In the case of the molested children, I think they would be quite justified in rejecting anything that they find indelibly linked to their abuse. Through the sin of their abusers they might be unable to see the truth and goodness of Christianity, and so they could not be condemned as knowingly rejecting true belief.

I agree with your problem with hell, and lean to annihilist or universalist understanding, but I don’t know. All I can say it must exist in some sense, but whatever it is it can’t be everlasting torture. The only thing the Catholic Church says definitely is that it is eternal separation from God. It’s an area where my faith needs to progress, I think. Your “emotional-invention,” by the way, is basically the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.

I agree that the problem of suffering is the biggest intellectual challenge to theism, and though I have some thoughts about how it might be solved I am not prepared to confidently assert or argue them. I also have some ideas about why any real god must be all good, but again I’m not ready to make the case. Are you saying simply that it is logically possible that God is not all good, and that the bare existence of suffering is evidence that he is not, or do you have other reasons to think god could be malevolent?

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al friedlander May 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Zeb, thanks for your response. I completely admit that Christianity (in my mind) can be defended; it’s just that, I suppose you could say I find it “intrinsically aversive”.

“The way I understand free will, it simply means that choices can be made completely independently of prior states or external conditions. I don’t see how foreknowledge of an outside mind reduces the freedom of an act ”

I’m by no means an expert in philosophy, but I suppose you could make an argument that the fallen angels did have some form of ‘free will’. What I believe, however, is what I previously mentioned about a ‘ticking time bomb’. Essentially, let’s pretend that the angels were humans (they most definitely -were not-, but for the sake of explanation, it makes things easier). Since God is designing these ‘angels’, he is responsible for the programming of their DNA and the resultant interactions with their environment. Because of that, and the fact that events in life are essentially a massive domino effect, depending on the genetic-code that God chose to ‘program’, these angels will do exactly as he ‘planned’. Thus, if they become fallen angels, it was a defective (or intended) route from design.

The reason why I said previously that this -did not- prove that God does not exist, is because it certainly does not. What it does insinuate, however, is that God’s plan is somewhat ‘sinister’ in a sense.

“What is religiously important, if anything, is the insight or development that comes out of those experiences.”

I find that a fair explanation.

“Through the sin of their abusers they might be unable to see the truth and goodness of Christianity, and so they could not be condemned as knowingly rejecting true belief.”

I find this view ‘absolutely wonderful’. I wish most Christians held to this perspective. Unfortunately, the versions of Christianity that I am familiar with completely reject this, so I find that most of the time that’s not the case. They would simply say that the ‘abused child was not faithful enough’. I always found this kind of repulsive. Actually, scratch ‘kind of’

“I agree with your problem with hell, and lean to annihilist or universalist understanding”

Another perspective that I wish most Christians accepted. In my experience, however, it’s been the same as the above. I’ve yet, to meet a single adherer to the annihilist/univeralist position, of which I find ‘much’ more emotionally-satisfying. By the way, I appreciate when you said ‘I don’t know’. Sometimes, that’s the wisest response. “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. –Russell

“Are you saying simply that it is logically possible that God is not all good, and that the bare existence of suffering is evidence that he is not, or do you have other reasons to think god could be malevolent? ”

It’s a combination of things, really. One of my most personal arguments (or in other words, the card up my sleeve) is something that I thought up of with my college roommate during my freshman year (this was a phase of my spiritual search). All of sudden, I came upon a ‘eureka’ moment, that pretty much delivered a massive blow to my spiritual faith.

I already knew, at this point, that there was a, perceived, large amount of ‘unnecessary’ suffering in the world (hell only made this problem worse). I had to know why. Essentially, it goes along the lines of my ‘fallen angel’ logic above. Everything, and I mean -everything- that’s bad in the world, is either blamed on Satan (my mother’s approach) or the fall of man (the approach of pretty much most of my Christian friends, whom are more educated). The realization that I stumbled upon, can be reduced to essentially this:

The fall of man, or in other words, a kind of metaphorical ‘fall’ of Adam and Eve, is responsible for all the suffering in the world (disease, rape, torture, hell, etc. etc.). But was this truly justified? After that one troubled night, I realized that it most definitely wasn’t.

There are many approaches that I usually argue this subject, but let me choose this one for now: before eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve did not have the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, they were innocent in a way similar to children. What God did, however, is comparable to what he did to the ‘fallen angels’; he planted a trap. Doesn’t it seem suspicious? A few innocent/mindless beings wondering in a forest…and you decide to plant a forbidden tree…right next to them. To make it worse, you have a terrible ‘security staff’, and Satan is allowed to sneak into the garden to tempt Adam and Eve.

The implications of this are rather disturbing to me. God, essentially, -planned- the fall of man. And since all suffering in the world converges back on this event, God, in a sense, planned for the world to suffer…terribly. But does this prove God doesn’t exist? Oh, by all means no. Like I previously mentioned, it doesn’t disprove God in the least. What it -does- do, however, is present a God so tyrannical and so purely evil, that it chills my bones. I concluded, eventually, that there was only one conclusion to all this:

God planned the fall of the angels; God planned the fall of man. God intended the world to suffer, so that he could essentially ‘harvest’ a group of ‘predestined elect’ that were the most faithful. He would then, wide out the remaining ‘rejects’. In another sense, in order for God to exist, he’s taking the ‘cream of the crop’, and throwing the rest of us out like garbage.

Thanks for listening.

-Al

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al friedlander May 8, 2010 at 5:43 pm

“wondering in a forest”

Sorry, I meant ‘garden’.

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Zeb May 9, 2010 at 12:49 pm

It sounds like you just flatly deny free will. When all of a being’s actions result from the interaction of its nature with its environment, that’s determinism, as your domino metaphor indicates. It seems we have two strong metaphysical intuitions, free will and universal causation, that conflict in the case of personal action. If free will is real, then there is no answer to the question, “Why did X will Y?” An act of free will is independent of nature or environment. If there is no free will, then I agree that the god of this particular world must be monstrous. He would be personally responsible for all the suffering there is.

But free will seems to me to be a obvious fact of my life, and necessary a precondition of most of what I do, including this conversation, so I accept free will and its violation of universal causation.

I also think that it is better to exist than not to exist, and better to have freedom than not to have freedom, so I expect that a loving god would create beings with free will even if he knew that certain ones would at some point make harmful use of their freedom. I don’t see how that foreknowledge takes away from their freedom or from the goodness of their creator.

I don’t take a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden story but I believe it is a myth rich in metaphorical and allegorical applications. Now is not the time and I am not the person to illuminate any of them, but I will point out that your objection to the literal interpretation again hinges on a rejection of free will. Determinism may provide an adequate explanation of everything we observe in the world outside of ourselves, but it denies what I think we observe directly within ourselves and what we presume in others when we interact in any meaningful way.

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al friedlander May 9, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Zeb,

“It sounds like you just flatly deny free will.”
“An act of free will is independent of nature or environment.”
“so I accept free will and its violation of universal causation.”

What you’ve presented sounds reasonable. To be fair, it definitely does sound like I -am- somewhat opposed to the inherent notion of free will (as your analysis of my ‘domino-effect’ example demonstrates).

“But free will seems to me to be a obvious fact of my life, and necessary a precondition of most of what I do, including this conversation”

It’d be completely unfair for me to have the audacity to imply that you are ‘wrong’. Instead, I suppose I’ll leave it ‘we’ll have to agree to disagree’. To me, free will has always seemed illusory; this became especially salient after my studies in psychobiology (though by all means, I don’t have a PhD). Still, after contemplating gene-environmental dynamics/interactions, I concluded that every single action is propagated by an identifiable, previous action (whether it is biochemical, or physically obvious). For example, I suppose I would say that your conversation is the result of my response to your previous post, and a noticeable interaction with the resultant personality that you embody today; this personality, would then be characterized as a result of your past gene/environmental interactions and your upbringing.

“I also think that it is better to exist than not to exist, and better to have freedom than not to have freedom”

My opinion, is that it is much better not to exist. Considering that life is a random gamble (where/when you are born, the kind of family you are raised in, the values that you are taught, the conditions you must live in, etc.), I consider hell as too great of a risk (not to mention the risk of a terrible life in -this world-). Though one could argue heaven makes this worth all it, I’d still say no because of how terrible hell is. I’m legitimately sorry for beating a dead horse, but to me, eternal damnation just isn’t something I take lightly.

(Just noting, an interesting thing that I once read was if free-will would/could possibly exist in heaven. And if it didn’t, why did God need to create the world in the first place.) (By the opposite of free will, I mean being a complete-robot incapable of anything sinful).

“Determinism may provide an adequate explanation of everything we observe in the world outside of ourselves, but it denies what I think we observe directly within ourselves and what we presume in others when we interact in any meaningful way.”

My response would be the same as above. I feel that the ‘domino-effect’ applies to what we think/feel internally as well. In my opinion, from the moment we are born (and even before then, technically), our lives flow in a pattern. A chaotic pattern for sure, but a pattern nonetheless. I suppose my science/psychology background somewhat nudges me towards this point of view, but hey, haha. Did I have free will in believing what I believe today? Or was it a result of my personality interacting with my university.

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Patrick March 8, 2011 at 6:27 am

The problem is this: You are on a raft, floating down a river, and you have God as a guide in the raft with you. You can choose to engage in conversation with him, listen to what he says, or ignore him and enjoy the beauty of the river alone. The journey is long, but there is a waterfall at the end. God makes a promise: believe in me and we will go over the falls together but never be separated in the end. We will be in a place together more magnificent than this one.

You don’t have to believe the promise. You can go over the falls and choose to abandon Him and His promise. If you don’t believe God was in the raft with you, then you have lost nothing in your mind. There is an end to the journey. But you cannot also claim His promise without believing in Him. You can only try to grasp at your own concept of what happens when you go over the falls. In all cases, we go over the waterfall. Where will you end up?

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truthordie May 31, 2011 at 1:50 pm

“Problem-Reaction-Solution” is certainly not something confined to just Christianity. This is how the world is run!

It would seem Pastors know as much about GOD , as Doctors know about cures. It all depends on where or who they learned from. The majority have been indoctrinated with their “educations or certifications”. A “certified” doctor can tell you with confidence there’s no cure for “cancer” while a non-”certified” .. say… native of some remote jungle can tell you exactly what “herb/plant” and dosage you’ll need to remedy your imbalance or “dis-ease”. Not all pastors and doctors fit into this example, but many do.

Truth exists in everything. It’s just layered and covered with so many lies to cause the perceiver to question it’s entirety and dismiss it’s validity. Also, the very tools we use to experience the world around us ,”our senses”, are severely limited. Just because you cannot see, smell, hear or touch something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Regardless of religious beliefs, race, regions etc…. treat everyone the way you would like to be treated!

Peace to all you strangers! :)

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Hamman Samuel September 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. You’re absolutely right! Christianity has become a business of “saving souls”. But how can a soul be saved when it doesn’t want to? Churches make big money from their member drives and merchandise of salvation, and frankly it has very little resemblance to what the founder of this movement started it off as: a revolution for individual and societal change.

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Ben September 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

wait so your saying that we christians make up the problem? so then what is the meaning of life. you told me that there is a meaning whithout God. so then… What is it?

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